Major changes to both the curriculum and NCEA assessments are being pushed back and students will still be able to gain literacy and numeracy requirements without having to sit the new highly controversial tests.
Principals and teachers, who have been calling for a change in the timeline to allow teachers to understand what they mean and better prepare their students, have welcomed the announcement by Education Minister Jan Tinetti yesterday.
But critics fear the changes will create a “high road and a low road” and a lack of continuity for students.
Tinetti announced the mandatory introduction of new NCEA assessment standards for Levels 2 and 3 would be pushed back a year.
Schools would still be required to implement the new NCEA Level 1 next year but would not have to start using Level 2 until 2026 and Level 3 until 2027.
As Tinetti hinted at in an interview with the Weekend Herald earlier this month, there would also be a two-year transition period before the new numeracy and literacy requirements would be made mandatory.
The new reading, writing and numeracy tests, which students must pass before they are awarded any NCEA qualification, will still be brought in next year but in 2024 and 2025 students will also be able to sit and pass an alternative set of maths and literacy assessment standards.
When it came to reading, 58 per cent passed and 57 per cent passed the numeracy standard.
Tinetti said the third change would mean schools would still be required to teach the refreshed English, maths, te reo Māori and pāngarau areas of the curriculum by 2026 but would not have to teach the rest of the refreshed curriculum until 2027.
She said the altered timelines followed feedback from teachers and principals, who said delaying some of the changes meant they could focus on children’s outcomes.
“Three years of Covid-19 disruptions have left teachers and students exhausted, so we want to make sure that we are easing that workload a bit and are focusing on what matters to families most.
“We share the same goals of wanting kids at school, attending regularly and learning the basics they need to live fulfilling lives. So we’ll keep on with the changes that are needed, but roll it out at a pace that works for teachers and principals – which is good for the education system in the long term.”
Tinetti said her hope was that the slowdown would allow schools to focus on literacy and numeracy.
“As minister of education, my bottom line is to ensure our young people are getting the education they need and deserve. This includes giving students, along with their parents and employers, confidence that they are leaving school with a strong foundation in maths and literacy.”
As the Herald outlined in its recent Making the Grade series, student achievement in core subjects has declined over the past two decades, based on both national and international studies.
New Zealand Initiative senior fellow Michael Johnston said he believed the decision to implement the new NCEA Level 1 next year but delay Levels 2 and 3 for a year would create a lack of continuity for next year’s cohort of Year 11 students.
“At the NCEA level, the standard becomes the de facto curriculum. There will be a disconnect between the new Level 1 and the old Level 2. How will they line up? Will there be the same continuity?”
He was also concerned about the decision to implement the new literacy and numeracy tests in conjunction with an alternative pathway, saying it created a “high road and a low road”.
The reason for having the new test was because the old method of gaining literacy and numeracy credits through passing a group of standards was a poor predictor of a student’s ability, he said.
He agreed the test needed to be delayed because making it a requirement to gain NCEA would be “throwing a whole cohort of kids off a cliff”.
Until the issues at primary school were addressed, he believed the test could be used as a separate credential that students could gain.
Education Hub founder Nina Hood agreed the mixed NCEA levels could cause confusion for students, although the delay would help teachers.
The delay of the literacy and numeracy co-requisite tests by two years would enable more students to achieve NCEA in 2024 and 2025.
“But I do worry that unless there is substantive work undertaken to improve maths and literacy achievement across the education system over the next couple of years, we may just be pushing the issue of students not passing the literacy and numeracy co-requisite tests down the road rather than addressing the underlying causes.”
Secondary Principals Association of NZ president Vaughan Couillault was happy with the changes and said they had been requested by many in the secondary sector for some time because of concerns about the capacity of schools and teachers to implement the required NCEA changes.
“I think it will certainly take some pressure off the sector, not in terms of content or dumbing down but in the mode of delivery and terms of assessment.
“With this adjusted timeline, schools will have more time to build their capacity and adequately prepare for the changes, ensuring that the new standards can be more successfully integrated into teaching practice.”
Secondary Principals’ Council chair Kate Gainsford and Post Primary Teachers’ Association acting president Chris Abercrombie said principals were glad the changes enabled the refreshed curriculum to drive the changes to NCEA, rather than the other way around.
“We had serious concerns about the fact that these changes were being done independently of each other and the cart was being put before the horse,” Abercrombie said. “It’s imperative that the curriculum is at the forefront of teaching and learning and the changes being made to it need to feed into the development of the new NCEA achievement standards.
“The new timeline will enable teachers to be involved in the curriculum refresh in a way that isn’t happening now. We are pleased that the minister understands this and she has listened.”
He said the new timeline should include professional development for teachers to allow the changes to be implemented as successfully as possible.
As for the new NCEA literacy and numeracy co-requisites, Abercrombie said he would have preferred that the tests not be introduced at all for a couple of years, rather than having a transition period with an alternative pathway.
“We welcome the co-requisites as a means of strengthening young people’s literacy and numeracy ability. However, the pilots are showing there is a lot more work needed to ensure that the co-requisites are accessible and equitable for all students.
“These co-requisites are high stakes for rangatahi – if they can’t achieve them, they don’t get NCEA and their life choices are severely diminished.”
National’s dducation spokesperson, Erica Stanford, said delaying the assessments was an admission from Labour that its education policies were failing children.
“The Government will be trying to dress this up as a good thing and a great compromise but really it’s a massive backtrack,” she said.
“This is an admission of failure. Our numeracy and literacy levels have been dropping like a stone.”
She claimed the Government was blindsided by how poor the results of the literacy and numeracy trials were and had announced the delay as a panicked response.
“The Government’s pilot of this assessment showed that 90 per cent of students in decile one schools would have failed, and therefore could not obtain any NCEA qualification. Labour has neglected the very students that need a great education to change their lives.
“Overall, more than half of New Zealand students involved in the pilot were unable to pass a foundational writing test the OECD says is necessary to succeed in further learning, life, and work.”
She said the problem was that the Government got rid of National Standards and did not replace them with anything, so there was no measure of how students were doing until they reached high school.